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Trainees left to sink or swim, says study

Misconceptions about sixth-formers jeopardise reform, Julie Henry reports

TEACHER training ignores post-16 and vocational education because it wrongly assumes that all sixth-formers are bright and highly motivated, a new study claims.

The Government's overhaul of 14 to 19 education could fail as a result, according to Dr John Butcher, the Open University's director of postgraduate programmes.

Interviews with student teachers showed they began training with serious misconceptions about sixth-formers. Many were left to "sink or swim" in post-16 classrooms.

Dr Butcher said: "Trainee teachers had illusions about post-16 shattered. They were more or less left to their own devices. As a result they were surprised about how difficult it was to teach post-16 and surprised at the lack of support.

"It became evident to them that GCSE study did not prepare pupils for the narrowly specialised, assessment-led A-level curriculum."

The knowledge gap will be a massive problem, according to Dr Butcher. He said: "Teachers are subject specialists but the reforms will expect teachers to teach vocational courses as well as have an advisory role. Teachers will have to be retrained to meet Green Paper requirements. But there is no mention of how this is to be tackled."

Many student teachers in the study were likely to have professional skills as most had left other careers to become teachers. But very few were offered training in how to teach vocational courses.

Vocational GCSEs will be available for the first time this autumn in art and design, business, engineering, health and social care, ICT, leisure and tourism, manufacturing and science. However, few vocational subjects offered at GCSE and A-level have specific teacher-training courses.

Ministers admit that greater vocational take-up could have big implications for teacher supply.

Further education is seen as fundamental in providing job-related learning. Teenagers can be taught in colleges by tutors without a PGCE but lecturers going into schools have to have the qualification. All new, full-time lecturers now have to do a PGCE or equivalent. Existing lecturers are supposed to have completed the qualification within five years.

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